KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII—There are certain unknowns that accompany the planet’s most demanding single-day sporting event. Will the currents in Kailua Bay grasp the swimmers and place them into a ridiculously forceful spin cycle? When, where and from what angle will the crushing crosswinds deliver their well-known blow? And, during the marathon, will the seeming 10,000-degree sun transform the black lava and pavement into a runner-frying skillet?
But for Jan Frodeno the answers to those and all other questions clearly presented no problems. The German star completed the 2015 Ironman World Championship’s 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run in 8 hours, 14 minutes, 40 seconds, a performance that launched the 34-year-old to the pinnacle of endurance sport as world champion.
“As things go in Ironman, it’s all about the perseverance,” Frodeno said after his victory. “I was super, super happy to soak it all in. In the end, I was ecstatic and grateful … a little teary.”
With his completion of Oct. 10’s 140.6 torturous miles, Frodeno also became the first Ironman athlete to complete the triple crown of triathlon, having already taken gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the win at this year’s Ironman 70.3 world championship.
Frodeno exited the 2.4-mile swim in 50:50, right on the heels of New Zealand’s Dylan McNeice. Frodeno then went on to record the pro men’s seventh-fastest bike leg (4:27:27) and third-fastest run (2:52:21).
Frodeno overcame the threat from last year’s Ironman world champion and countryman Sebastian Kienle, who finished eighth (8:29:43). Frodeno finished third in last year’s Kona race.
For the pro men, Germany’s Andreas Raelert finished second (8:17:43), followed by Timothy O’Donnell (8:18:50) and Andy Potts (8:21:25) both of the U.S., and Tyler Butterfield of Bermuda (8:23:09). Raelert, who averaged a 6:10 pace during the first five miles of the grueling run, made a strong push and passed O’Donnell with less than three miles remaining.
“These two boys managed to scare me on the run,” Frodeno said of Raelert and O’Donnell.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Raelert said. “After seven hours of feeling really good, I bonked, badly. [But] after two bad years, I’m very happy to be back on the podium.”
O’Donnell, who’s no newbie to Ironman racing, realizes the importance of keeping a clear mind when conditions get rough.
“It was an interesting day on the bike,” explained O’Donnell, who also was the top U.S. finisher at 2013’s world championship. “Eventually, I kept looking back and saw no one was coming, so I just went for it—stick to the task at hand and worry about everything later.”
Last year marked Daniela Ryf’s first year competing in Kona, and she capitalized on the opportunity with a jaw-dropping performance, after only losing to three-time world champion Mirinda Carfrae with less than four miles remaining in the marathon.
Carfrae, who was vying for her third straight Hawaiian championship—fourth overall—was forced to leave this year’s race during the bike—three miles before Hawi—due to a back injury.
“Gutted to pull the plug,” said Carfrae, in a Twitter post following her tough decision. “Back seizing up after [a] minor crash this week … hard call.”
At the conclusion of last year’s race, Ryf explained that she, “never ever dreamed that I would have such results. I’ve found a really happy place with long distance. I really enjoy riding hard. [But] I still have a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to coming back next year.”
And Ryf returned. In a big way. On the Big Island. The 28-year-old Swiss standout captured the 2015 Kona title with an overall time of 8:57:57.
I just wanted to do my best,” Ryf said. “I had about the perfect race and in an Ironman that doesn’t happen [often]. I just tried to focus and push the pace. The bike went really perfect.”
Ryf was followed to the finish by Great Britain’s Rachel Joyce (9:10:59), Australia’s Liz Blatchford (9:14:52), Denmark’s Michelle Vesterby (9:18:50) and the U.S.’s Heather Jackson (9:21:45).
“I’m so honored to be here,” said Jackson, who made her world championship pro debut. “I was actually surprised—my legs didn’t feel too bad. It was amazing out there. … I learned from last year—just watching—how quickly things can change; you never know what someone else is going through up the road.”
Each year, more than 110,000 professional and age group athletes attempt to qualify for the Ironman World Championship either through worldwide Ironman (full-distance) or Ironman 70.3 (half-distance) races, or by legacy or lottery. This year’s race boasted a field of 2,381 athletes, representing 62 countries and territories, on six continents.
“The biggest pressure I make is for myself,” Ryf explains. “I tried to focus and just race fast, and get done fast. … I knew the people in Switzerland wanted to go to bed.”